Asian stocks cheer move by China’s central bank, but trade war weighs

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Stocks across Asia advanced on Monday as China’s efforts to stop sharp declines in its currency and capital flight supported wider sentiment in the region, although the escalating Sino-U.S. trade conflict has capped gains.

Men walk past an electronic board showing market indices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Late on Friday, the People’s Bank of China raised the reserve requirement on some foreign exchange forward positions, making it more expensive to bet against the Chinese currency and helping pull the yuan away from 14-month lows.

The move boosted the Australian dollar, which is often played as a liquid proxy for the yuan. The Aussie came off two-week lows to climb as high as $0.7412 after the announcement, and was last at $0.7403.

“Leaning against bearish CNY sentiment is important because a rapidly weakening currency risks triggering residential outflows and destabilizing domestic asset prices,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note.

“Our economists think that PBOC likely will take further action if CNY depreciation continues or capital outflow pressure increases.”

On Monday, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan leapt 0.9 percent – the biggest jump in a month and its second straight session of gains.

Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.4 percent, while Australian shares added 0.75 percent. Chinese shares were positive too, with the blue-chip share index up 0.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 1.3 percent.

On Friday, the Dow climbed 0.54 percent, the S&P 500 gained 0.46 percent and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.12 percent. They were helped by strong corporate earnings, although gains were capped by worries over the escalating trade tensions.

The trade dispute remains a live issue for markets with China proposing tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods on Friday, while a senior Chinese diplomat cast doubt on prospects of talks with Washington to resolve the bitter trade conflict.

That was followed by a report in China’s state media saying Friday’s retaliatory tariffs were “rational” while accusing the United States of blackmail.

At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump said his strategy of placing steep tariffs on Chinese imports is “working far better than anyone ever anticipated”, citing losses in China’s stock market. He predicted the U.S. market could “go up dramatically” once trade deals were renegotiated.

According to Bespoke Investment Group, mentions of tariffs in S&P 500 company earnings reports for the second quarter have more than doubled from the first quarter of this year.

Other factors too are weighing over investor sentiment.

“While the possibility of a trade war is still top of mind for investors, it isn’t the only cause for concern,” said Lachlan McPherson, Senior Investment Consultant at Charles Schwab Australia.

“Investors are also closely watching the rising value of the U.S. dollar, slowing global economic growth and the risk of the Federal Reserve tightening short-term interest rates too quickly and dampening domestic economic growth.”

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of six other currencies, has risen 3.4 percent so far this year with strong rallies since April when Trump first announced the tariffs. The index was last up 0.1 percent at 95.26.

Traders see further upside in the dollar as they maintained a significantly large long position on the currency, while net short bets on the Aussie were their largest since November 2015.

The British pound held at $1.30 after falling to an 11-day low of $1.2975 following remarks by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that Britain faced an “uncomfortably high” risk of a “no deal” Brexit.

The euro inched down to more than 5-week lows of $1.1573.

Gold bounced from near 17-month lows after weaker-than-expected U.S. jobs data, and was last up 0.3 percent at $1,216.45.

Meanwhile, Brent crude futures rose 41 cents to $73.62, while U.S. crude oil futures added 34 cents to $68.82 a barrel.

Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Joseph Radford and Sam Holmes

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